3-year-old boy hospitalized with tick-borne Powassan virus; the body is limp

  • A young boy has contracted a rare and life-threatening tick-borne virus, and now one side of his body is limp.
  • Two weeks after a tick bite, he was hospitalized with a headache and a fever over 103 degrees.
  • The boy was diagnosed with Powassan virus disease and treated with an unproven antibody treatment.

A toddler in Pennsylvania contracted a rare tick-borne virus while swimming in a neighbor’s pool and is now limp on the left side of his body, according to news reports.

Jonny Simoson, 3, was in good health when his mother, Jamie, saw a live tick lodged in his right shoulder, he told the New York Post. Jamie Simoson told the Post that he easily removed the tick with a pair of tweezers in 15 minutes, leaving behind a “little red bump.”

Two weeks later, he began complaining of headaches, became unusually sleepy and had a fever over 103 degrees Fahrenheit, Simoson said, according to the New York Post.

After two visits to a pediatrician, Simoson took Jonny to the emergency room. The next 12 days were a jumble of MRIs and CT scans, a spinal tap, antibiotics and antivirals as doctors investigated the cause of his symptoms, first in a general ward and then in pediatric intensive care. Eventually, after ruling out other causes, doctors diagnosed him with meningoencephalitis caused by the Powassan virus, Simoson wrote in a blog post.

“It was very frustrating looking for an answer. We were terrified that we wouldn’t be able to come home to our son,” Simoson said, according to the New York Post.

Powassan virus, transmitted by deer ticks, is rare

People get Powassan virus from infected black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks. It is usually diagnosed by analyzing the cerebrospinal fluid.

Data suggests that between six and 39 cases are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention each year, primarily in the northeastern states and the Great Lakes region in the late spring, early summer, and mid-season. fall, when deer ticks are most active.

Most people do not have any symptoms, but the virus can cause confusion, loss of coordination, slurred speech, and seizures if it infects the brain or its membranes.

About one in 10 people who get severe illness from the Powassan virus dies, and about half of those who survive are left with long-term loss of muscle and strength, according to the CDC.

Meningoencephalitis, Jonny’s diagnosis, is a serious condition in which the brain and the thin tissues around it become inflamed.

black-legged tick on a blade of grass

Black-legged ticks can spread Powassan virus.

Ladislav Kubes/Getty Images


Jonny received an antibody treatment

There are no proven medications for Powassan virus disease, so most people with severe illness are treated in hospital with supportive measures, including fluids through a drip into a vein and oxygen.

However, Jonny was treated with five doses of disease-fighting antibodies from blood donors, a treatment called intravenous immunoglobulin therapy, which has been used to treat lupus and children with heart conditions.

Dr. Swathi Gowtham, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in Danville, Pennsylvania, who was involved in the case, told CBS Philly that Jonny responded “very well” to treatment.

“I really can’t say if it’s due to IVIG,” he said, adding that “more studies need to be done” on the use of intravenous immunoglobulin for Powassan virus.

Jonny was released from the hospital after 12 days, but was limp on one side of his body and needed physical rehabilitation and speech therapy. According to the New York Post, his parents had to re-teach him how to eat and drink.

“Jonny was not walking yet and his balance was poor. We knew we had a lot of work to do, but we were up for the challenge,” Simoson wrote.

“We’re really confident that the progress that he’s made will continue,” Simonon told CBS Philly.

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